The elaborate support structure of Team India seems to confuse Rishabh more than help him.
All’s well that ends well. And it ended rather well for Team India in the T20 series against the ferocious Bangladesh Tigers. There was a hat-trick in an incisive spell for the underrated Deepak Chahar, a maiden half century for the consistently aggressive Shreyas Iyer and top class spin bowling by the leggie Chahar who looked a class above the rest of the spinners in the T20i series. Of course, there is no series without the spotlight being on the uncertainties of the anxiety-riddled Rishabh Pant.
One would wish that wise heads would sit Rishabh down and have a chat with him rather than put him in a kind of hot seat and fire questions at him as if all the others are Amitabh Bachcan wannabes in shooting off multiple questions at all comers who sit squirming while the big shot is preening. The first thing he has to stop is trying to over-hit the ball. Batting even in T20s is not a continuous wild slog against the line.
The best of batsmen know that it is the flow that eases their task. It is the inbuilt sense of timing in the natural arc of the bat that provides the momentum, not whiplash pull of the wrists in cross-batted swipes at the ball. Even contemporary cricket’s most powerful hitter, Chris Gayle, looks for rhythm to hit those sixes down the straight field. A youngster who showed such talent in timing the ball early in his international cricket is now floundering in trying to be excessively forceful.
The elaborate support structure of Team India seems to confuse Rishabh more than help him. They put him under stress by talking about his inconsistencies openly as they did just as international cricket resumed after the World Cup and the Caribbean holiday. A session on the couch in front of videos of the best innings of powerful left-handers mould have done a world of good and more than time with the cricket mental coaches who are also known to cause paralysis by analysis.
Team India’s batting problems do not start and end with Rishabh Pant. It is clear enough why India has not performed well enough since winning the inaugural T20 Worlds in South Africa in 2007. A dozen years have gone by after the title win and we haven’t excelled at the shortest game since. There is certain fearlessness to aggressive batting which alone can see the momentum being sustained beyond the field placement six overs at the start. There too, the struggles are apparent if Rohit Sharma is not firing and Dhawan is trying to get his shythm.
Team England and New Zealand have become forces in white ball formats only by reworking their game, adding dollops of attacking cricket with the bat and free experimentation with everything else. Team England were once gutted when Carlos Brathwaite swung four successive sixes to win a T20 Worlds final in India, but they had relief in winning that crazy, topsy-turvy final in the last 50-overs World Cup, beating New Zealand in a pavilion count of boundary hits. Not the most satisfying way of winning something so big and yet reward enough for changing their outlook and their tactics.
When you have six batsmen and a couple of utility hitters behind them, where is the fear in going for the jugular from the beginning of a T20i? The suspicion is far too many Indian batsmen are looking at their own form and not enough about how they can contribute to the collective team performance. Rohit and the skipper Kohli are not prone to this kind of thinking as they are above having to prove themselves every time they go out to bat. This trait of looking at one’s own form is what is inhibiting team India’s batting, especially when they don’t get the electric starts.
There has to be more of a “we are in it together” kind of bonding for a team to work cohesively in a short, sharp and demanding format in which there is so little place for personal ambitions, although scope can be there in the longer formats. A lack of this imaginative togetherness is not a new failing in Indian cricket. Like the obsession with the landmark figures of centuries and half centuries, there is a bit too much of an individual before the team. This may be understandable in a very Indian context, but it doesn’t work in team sports. Team India must move on under its secure skipper to this greater state of team togetherness for white ball conquests.